GCI Celebrates 3G Data Service in Bethel with 6,000 Cheeseburgers

Bethel residents line up to receive McDonald’s cheesburgers from GCI. (KYUK photo)
Bethel residents line up to receive McDonald’s cheesburgers from GCI. (KYUK photo)

GCI celebrated the launch of 3G data service in Bethel by flying in 6,000 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. The Friday lunchtime crowd stretched out and around the parking lot of the Long House Hotel.

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Standing over 100 people in line for burgers, GCI’s Vice President for Wireless Services, Dan Boyette, says crews are continuing to tweak the network, but it appears to be functioning as intended.

“All of those things that people really had trouble doing before like browsing the internet or sending pictures..that sort of thing will work fine now with the 3G speed, while it’s tough with the 2G or EDGE speed,” Boyette said. “It’s a huge improvement and it’s something we want to keep doing throughout Western Alaska.”

GCI has invested millions of dollars over the last several years, including work to build the TERRA-Southwest fiber optic and microwave tower connection. Boyette says tests show phones getting 6 to 7 megabit per second downloads speeds. He says people who don’t have smartphones should see better performance because the old networks is seeing less demand from smartphones.

Paul Landes is Senior Vice President for Consumer Services and spent the afternoon talking with customers.

“The feedback we’re getting is all really good feedback, people are very happy…clearly being able to do things they weren’t able to do in the past, so it’s an exciting launch, everyone seems pretty happy,” Landes said.

As Bethel’s Henrietta Knight waited in line for her cheeseburger, she says she’s not satisfied with her service.

“Every time I go to use my 3G service in the evening…I cannot get on, when I call, they say, oh we’re having problems there,” Knight said.

Knight says she asks for a credit on her account, but adds GCI won’t give her that.

Bethel residents’ years-long struggle with data service has gone to a new level this year and reached the courts. This spring, at the same time GCI’s 3G launched, attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of several customers against GCI . They said GCI did not live up to what was promised in cell phone contracts.

Representing the plaintiffs, Attorney David Henderson said Monday that GCI filed a motion for dismissal, to which the plaintiffs responded. They’re now waiting to hear back from GCI’s attorneys.

As that process slowly works its way in court, 10 other communities near Bethel will get 3G service. By November, the service should be up and running in Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, Akiachak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmauthluk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, and Oscarville.